Inverta investigates to uncover the truth: Who Killed ABM?

Chapter 2

Murder on the ICP Express

In our last episode, we discovered the horrifying news: ABM is dead. Not just dead, but dead under such suspicious circumstances that we have no choice but to believe that this was no death by natural causes, but cold-blooded murder. This leaves us with far more questions than answers. How did this happen? Why did it happen? And crucially, who wanted ABM dead?

No items found.

Ally B. McKettering (ABM) had no shortage of friends, admirers, and yes—even enemies. But who had means, motive, and opportunity to commit this heinous crime? That’s the real question. And we’ve compiled a list of the most likely suspects to investigate. 

We’ve gathered all the suspects into the drawing room—er, martech conference breakout room—and are taking them aside one by one for questioning. 

First up is Vega List, alias “Ideal Customer Profile (ICP).” For many years, Vega List was a close friend and collaborator of ABM. She was responsible for crafting ICPs and assembling target account lists. But though their friendship seemed sound, there are rumors that Vega List thought ABM was slowing her down and holding her back from getting campaigns out. Let’s see what she has to say for herself. 

The first clue: A trail of vague lists

As we touched on in our first episode, ABM emerged as a reaction to a type of digital marketing that prioritized a content-first, inbound approach. With the rise of cheap digital marketing, marketers no longer had to spend so much effort on audience research and targeting—but instead focused nearly all their attention on content and ad creative.

The problem? It didn’t work. Only a small fraction of leads actually converted, likely because these so-called “leads” weren’t actually a good fit to buy. 

With the rise of ABM, creating a target account list was sexy again. But very few marketers knew how to do it effectively. A whole generation of marketers came of age alongside the internet and, unlike their broadcast-era elders, never had to hone the skill of defining a target account list by trawling through firmographic data. 

When it came time to create target lists for ABM, many marketers struggled. A 2018 study found that 42 percent of marketers did not talk to customers when building out their customer profiles. Rather than starting with an ethnographer’s approach to crafting an understanding of their ICP, many companies started with the platform limitations of the software they were selling or an idea of the kinds of deals they’d like to land (i.e. “we want to move upmarket”). 

The result? The target lists they created were too large or not well-considered. Many companies who tried to define their audience ended up with their total addressable market, not their ICP. 

This was a huge problem. Not only did it make messaging extremely difficult for these companies (as the adage goes, if you try to appeal to everyone you’ll end up appealing to no one), but it was also wildly inefficient. Within your total addressable market, there are potential customers that you don’t want to sell to—buyers who could theoretically use your product, but who will take so much effort from your sales and customer support teams that it would ultimately be a bad fit for your business. Part of the reason it’s so important to define your ICP is to be able to rule out accounts that you don’t want to sell to. 

Returning to our suspect, did Vega List’s lack of rigor kill ABM? If this were true, it would pin the time of death much earlier than we had initially anticipated, but would provide a compelling explanation for how ABM came to meet her untimely demise. 

Before we mount any accusations, let’s see what she has to say for herself. 

Vega List’s alibi

“I was devastated to find out she had died—just devastated,” Vega List sniffles. “She was the one who made target account lists cool again. I really looked up to her, you know?” 

We nod, gingerly handing her a pack of tissues. She blows her nose. Loudly. 

“And I’ll admit it, when she first came onto the scene, I was skeptical. We’d been doing inbound for so long. It took some time and advice from some older, more experienced marketers to really nail down our ICP. But when we did—oh, it was a sight to behold.” 

“Tell us more about that,” we say. 

“Well, I was at Conan Doyle Industries* and we were about to launch a 1:1 ABM program. The sales team came to me with thirty accounts that met our criteria. Thirty accounts! Can you imagine? I tell them, at best, we have space for five—the rest will have to be demoted to 1:few or 1:many.” 

She goes on. “So here’s what we did. I created a questionnaire and got the sales team to put every proposed account through it to stack-rank them against our ICP so we could select the crème de la crème for 1:1 ABM. Actually, give it a moment, I think I have it here…” Vega rummages around in her bag and pulls out a folded piece of paper. 

“This seems robust,” we say, tucking away the document to be entered into evidence. “But how well did it work?” 

“It was a roaring success—well, eventually,” says Vega. “Sal Parson over in sales tried to ruin the program for me. She said we had to include some of her hand-picked accounts. If you ask me, that's who you really should be investigating.” 

“Try to stick to the story, ma’am,” we interject. 

Sorry,” she continues. “Anyway, the joke’s on Sal because my carefully chosen accounts all converted to pipeline and revenue, and her handpicked ones turned into diddly squat.” 

“Seems like a success story,” we say. “But what do you say to the allegations that your target account lists were too large and not always very well thought through?” 

“It’s a baseless accusation!” she sputters. 

“As you yourself said, building target account lists was a whole new skill you had to learn. I wonder if sometimes, in your hurry to get a fresh campaign out the door, you might have rushed the process,” we muse. 

Vega crosses her arms. “Not me, I always did my legwork.” 

“Oh really?” we say. “Here’s something you scrawled down at an old job—it defines your ICP as ‘all companies over 5000 employees.’ Ms. List, this isn’t an ICP, it’s your total addressable market! There’s no way you could have successfully targeted all those accounts with ABM! How would you tailor your messaging? Or what about filtering out accounts that weren’t a good fit?” 

Alright, I admit it!” she exclaims. “I did sometimes rush. I didn’t have time to spend ages crafting the perfect ICP and target account list—I had campaigns I needed to get out the door. I’ve been careless and even lazy, but I’m not a murderer. I’ve made mistakes in the past, but I’ve learned from them, honest! I wouldn’t do anything to hurt ABM, I respect her a lot.” 

“Thank you for being honest with us, Ms. List. Please, if you would, send the next person in.”

There we have it. Vega List admits to rushing her ICP and target account list—but claims she didn’t kill ABM. So which one is it? 

So, did Vega List kill ABM? 

Well, this does leave us in a bit of a pickle. Vega List’s evidence from Conan Doyle Industries shows that she was capable of creating successful target account lists—but it’s not an ironclad alibi. 

It seems that while she might have sabotaged the target account lists at some companies, it would be difficult to prove that she alone killed ABM. She didn’t seem to have it out for ABM, but may have inadvertently caused damage to the target account list through her own ignorance and negligence. 

Where does this leave us? Well, there’s no easy resolution to this mystery just yet. While there may be a case for Vega List, we still have six more suspects to question—which means this investigation is far from over. 

Join us next week where we’ll investigate Brian Journey (alias “buying journey”). Until then, what do you think? Did Vega List kill ABM? Cast your vote below. 

*Company name changed to protect our witnesses.

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